Posted by: minnow | April 5, 2008

Church Discipline

Recently one of my favorite blogs posted a case study in Church Discipline and the question was asked: What would you do?  The case study involved a woman who had committed adultery and confessed her indiscretion to her friend.  The friend told her she needed to repent.  When the adulteress rejected the friend’s advice (because she finally felt happy and valued) the friend brought in a couple other church members to confront the sinner.  Again the advice to repent was rejected.  Then the pastor was told.  (He bowed out by telling the friend he would pray about it and get back to her, which he never did).  To make a long story short the woman’s unbelieving husband found out about the adultery and left his wife and children, taking the family car.  Sunday came around and the adulteress called her friend requesting a ride to church.  What should the friend do?

Frankly I was surprised by how many commenters insisted the friend should shun the adulteress, not give her a ride, not fellowship with her in any way, continue to tell her she should repent, and refuse to have anything to do with her until she did.  Even appealing to sympathy for the adulteress’ children did little to soften the attitudes of those who advocated shunning.  One individual allowed that perhaps the children should be offered a ride but not their mother.  Another commenter went so far as to say the children “would get over it” and come to see the truth once they were adults.

I am not particularly interested in rehashing what the friend or the Church should do in this or a similar situation.  If you want to participate in that discussion check out the Pen and Parchment blog.  I am more interested in discussing what the impact of Church discipline is on the lives of individuals and how fear factors in to the whole issue of sin, repentance, and forgiveness.

It came to my attention a couple days ago that a family within my own fellowship has quit coming to church because they feel ashamed and afraid.  Their oldest daughter is pregnant and she is not married.  Approximately a year ago another family faced a similar situation but continued to attend our fellowship.  Knowing the attitude which prevailed toward the family last year (and still lingers today) I understand and have sympathy toward this most recent family.  At the same time I am saddened that the Church is such an unsafe place in the eyes of so many, believers and non-believers alike.

So, what impact does discipline, such as shunning, have on the Church?  As pointed out by many on the original blog the Biblical purpose of such discipline is to both warn others (1 Timothy 5:20) and restore the sinner (Galatians 6:1).  In Jesus’ day to be separated from your faith community had a devastating effect.  The outside culture would rarely accept you even if you would want it to and if it did you were generally at the bottom of the social and economic heap.  Money and status are not as directly connected to ones religious group today, at least not in the United States.

Because ones position and security are not impacted to the same degree they were, shunning is not as effective a warning tool as it once was.  The mobility of our society also diminishes the effect of shunning.  Being rejected by ones faith community no longer means you can not have a faith community.  Today one simply hops next door.  In fact, shepherds  are so used to seeing sheep  wander over from other fields  they rarely even ask the sheep what precipitated the move. 

If deterrent disciplines, such as overt shunning, are as ineffective as they appear to be, what would cause someone, like the family I mentioned earlier, to “self-shun”, so to speak?  I could be wrong, I certainly have been before, but I believe problems like gossip, self-righteousness, and pride ought to be our focus.  The family above feels afraid and ashamed.  Why?  Perhaps they have been around the block enough times to know what the “Christian” attitudes toward their family might be.  Perhaps they have even held some of these attitudes toward other families.  During college I worked in a Christian book store.  Two of my fellow workers were old enough to be my mother and had been friends for a very long time.  One day while I was working I overheard one of these ladies say to the other that she wished her daughter was as good  as the other woman’s daughter.  I will never forget the response of the other woman.  After assuring her friend that she was in deed a good mother, this woman said, “There but for the grace of God go I.”  Sadly, the “Christian” attitudes most of us show one another are rarely as merciful as the attitude this woman showed her friend.

Rather than running away from the Church, the family in my fellowship ought to be seeking comfort and support in the Church.  Their shame and fear evidences the fact that the Body too often response like cancer to pain and suffering, turning on itself and devouring what little good still exists.  I do not know a quick way to rid the Church of the systemic disease of self-righteousness, unforgiveness, and pride.  But I do know that being kind, merciful, and humble toward one person or one family is a step in the right direction. 

I think it’s time to make a baby quilt and then pay a visit to some people I know.

 

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Responses

  1. minnowpseaks, i am not the best commenter out here in blogland but i have been meaning to stop by and say hello and let you know that i really appreciate what you share on your blog. i love your voice and the thought provoking ideas you stir up. now, on this one, i thought i’d chime in on your blog (i don’t have the margin to get the convo over on the other one)

    there are churches all over the place on this issue of “church discipline” i have seen a lot of different variations of it and usually the people just end up leaving and lose their community and miss out on what could have happened if true grace could have been extended to them. i think we need to be very very careful about elevating certain sins above other ones just because they are more obvious. take for instance, the guy (or girl for that matter) who struggles with porn. they honestly struggle but they “can’t” stop yet, they “refuse for the moment” to stop, in the same way that the woman you described here was unwilling to give up her affair. do they get kicked out of fellowship until they can confirm they no longer are looking at porn in any way shape or form? i believe it would be so powerful to that woman to receive love and care for her and her family in the midst. it is totally appropriate to say ‘we don’t agree with you, we think this is sin, a bad idea, not good for you or your children’ but we will journey alongside you all the way unless you harden your heart and tell us that you don’t want to be with us anymore. we are not leaving you… all of our “truth” can be on the table without taking grace off at the same time. i think so much can be navigated with honest communication, boundaries on what we are willing to do and not do so that we don’t compromise what we think God wants us to do as brothers and sisters in Christ but we don’t get to make it as simple as “you aren’t listening to us in this exact moment and so now you’re out.” i know matthew 18, i believe in it, i am not discounting it, but there are always more complexities & nuances than meet the eye and we are called as Christ-followers to filter all we do through “is this the loving thing to do? how can i offer Christ to this person?” i am not saying that we totally just sit by and tolerate sin like it’s no big deal. i am just saying we give up too easy. we don’t wait long enough. we rush to judgement (can you believe she won’t leave him?) and forget we are the same broken people, it just looks a little less exciting than others sometimes. and we often avoid those who are ashamed because we know they are ashamed and we don’t know what to say. the best thing we can do in that moment, i believe, is say “how are you? we love you, what do you need as our friend, no stones thrown here.”

    i have many examples of people who didn’t get ditched when they were in the midst of huge sin and struggle–affairs, addictions, babies out of wedlock, shameful shameful stuff, all kinds of crazy things. i have seen what can happen when we are honest in community, speaking the truth in love, and not giving up too soon.

    ps: i am not saying that there aren’t times where we’ve tried, tried, tried to offer grace and hearts are just so hardened that it wouldn’t be possible to have real relationship together but i think there’s much more work that usually could be done if we stayed the course and didn’t give up so soon.

  2. Thank you Kathy for your contribution!
    I think you are absolutely right about what the Church should/could look like. I am afraid I haven’t seen much of that kind of Christlikeness in the circles I have traveled (perhaps I need to get out more–lol).

  3. Arrgh, two times in row I wrote a response and forgot to fill in the name and email sections and my response went away! (I will do that FIRST from now on.) So I will just say now…I agree with both of you. 🙂

    minnowspeaks, there isn’t a way to get email when someone responds to a post we want to keep track of, is there? Thanks.

    Joanie D.

  4. JoanieD–There might be and I haven’t found it yet. I’m technically an computer idiot. I’ll keep looking and ask.

  5. Hi there Minnowspeaks

    BritPhil here….my post was the one the one before your most recent post on the Pen and Parchment blog! I followed the link you provided to your site as I felt I was in need of an injection of sanity having read through some of the Pen and Parchment blog responses!

    Like yourself I tried my hardest to get my head around the “don’t have anything more to do with this sinner until she repents” brigade, but failed miserably! I think my overriding advice to the lady in question would probably have been…try and find some better friends!

    ..guess what…not all of us blokes are compassion-phobics… honest!!!

  6. Minnowspeaks

    Britphil here again!!!

    Whereabouts are you based in the States? The only reason I ask is that it is just gone 5.30am in the morning your time and we are 8 hours ahead of you here in the UK and I was trying to work out where you might be blogging from.

    Don’t mean to pry..just intrigued!!

    Phil

  7. Phil–
    I was shock at the percentage who voted the shunning route.
    Thankfully with all our warts the people I asked in my own fellowship said, “Heck yeah take her to Church!”

  8. Oh, for some reason my clock is off. It’s actually 6:48 now. I’m not sure how to change the time. I’ve tried to no avail. At least it doesn’t plop me in the ocean.

  9. Hi britphil. I hope minnowspeaks won’t mind my asking you on her blog, because I didn’t want to ask you on the P &P blog and then have you get lambasted by some folks there when you answer. But I was happy to see you write that the best thing that has happened in a long time in the Anglican church was the ordination of women. I was wondering if you can expand upon that. Have women entered the ministry in droves now? Are they reaching out to people in a way that the men did not? Is is just that you feel the “policy” is finally “fair” now? Thanks!

    Joanie D.

  10. Great questions JoanieD and I don’t mind.


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